Saturday, 16 June 2018

Gdynia's Modernist Pearl - The BGK Building

Gdynia is an attractive city in northern Poland, on the Baltic coast. In 1870, just 2,500 people lived in the then small fishing village, but following the First World War and the free city status of neighbouring Gdansk, the Polish Government decided to develop Gdynia into a major, modern port city. Serious development began in 1928 and was so rapid that by 1939 over 120,000 people were living there. This necessitated a massive construction programme to house, serve and administer the city . Many of the new buildings were designed in the modernist style.

The apartment building of the Pension Fund of the Bank of National Economics (BGK) at 3 Maja, 27-31 (3rd of May Street) is perhaps the most iconic of these architectural treasures and is sometimes referred to as the pearl of modernism. Constructed in two phases, the first of which was completed in 1936 and the second in 1939, it is the tallest and largest residential building of pre-war Gdynia. The second phase was not quite complete when the Second World War commenced and the work was finished by the German occupiers who seized not only this apartment block but the whole of Gdynia, expelling all Poles from the city.

The tower and the older wing
The BGK dominates its corner position with the older wing rising to eight floors. The two upper levels are recessed adding interest to the design but it is the narrow tower that rises a floor further that most appeals to me. It suggests the nautical theme so typical of modernist architecture and so appropriate to a port city. The ground floor includes Cafe Cygernia which has beautiful curved windows and serves two kinds of cheesecake (I had both and slightly preferred the honey and cinnamon over the raisin!). The younger section is a longer structure, but with fewer levels defined by thick bands between the glazing. The rear of the building is almost as interesting as the facade and has a series of small balconies and thermometers or glazed stairwells. Still in the courtyard there is a series of two storey structures that may have been used as garages for the most important residents as well as housing their chauffeurs. Gdynia saw fighting between the Russians and the German occupiers at the end of the Second World War and bullet holes from the battle can still be seen in the walls at the rear.

Cafe Cyganeria
Rear courtyard balconies and glazed stairwells
The Bank commissioned architect Stanislaw Ziolowski to design the building. He was also to live there for a time at flat number seven. He did not survive the war, dying in Kharkov in 1940, but his brother Zygmunt, also an architect and a resident returned after 1945. The apartments were originally intended to house Gdynia's elite, including high ranking bank officials, lawyers and other wealthy and accomplished people. Ziolowski's designs spared no expense and included the finest materials, new technology and every modern convenience. Extensive use was made of high quality imported marble for the staircases and window sills,  coloured and patterned mosaics in the external lobby and copper detailing for  stylised detailing on the internal doors. Other modern facilities included a lift and a cyclops fitted to the door of every apartment. The cyclops was a small peephole  enabling those inside to see who was at the door without being seen themselves and to decide whether or not to be at home. The apartments were also very large, some in excess of 200 square metres with two bathrooms, several bedrooms, kitchen, salon and large hall.

Staircase - looking up
Staircase - looking down
Many luxury apartment blocks of the period offered residents 24 hour access to the services of a concierge and the  BGK was no exception. Less common was the provision of an underground car park whilst the worsening situation in Europe no doubt encouraged Ziolowski's inclusion of a basement bomb shelter. The shelter had a contraption for pumping in fresh air should the space need to be occupied. It still works today and was demonstrated to me when I visited.

The apartments in the older wing are larger and more luxurious than those in the still stylish second block and were built with living accommodation for servants. Additional spaces outside of the apartments were provided to enable these domestic workers to wash, dry and press the laundry of their employers. The technology available to the servants included a huge industrial style press of the kind used in a commercial laundry.

External lobby mosaics 
Residents name plat and cyclops on apartment door
Items from the Mini Museum
Much of the history of the building is preserved in a small museum housed in the former bomb shelter and lovingly curated and cared for by long time resident Maria Piradoff-Link. I was privileged to meet her during my stay in Gdynia. She very kindly showed me not only the museum but also the common areas of the building, pointing out the many remaining original features. What is now known as there Mini Muzeum began as a small collection of domestic items but now consists of many objects grouped under themes such as the living room, kitchen and bathroom. She explained that she had rescued many of the items from "rubbish" disposed of when apartments had been renovated. However now awareness of the museum has spread and regular donations arrive. The museum has recently won an award for an educational project related to cultural heritage whilst the national newspaper, Gzaeta Wyborcza featured Maria in a special series on influential Polish women in the 21st century.

Maria Piradoff-Link
It is not difficult to understand why the BGK has such iconic status. Not only does it have a  striking exterior and exquisite internal features it also has a fascinating, albeit at times dark history reflecting Poland's changing fortunes over eight decades. Its star is once again in the ascendancy as Gdynia's impressive built heritage becomes more widely known.

I must thank Witold Okun of the Agencia Rozwoju Gdyni for arranging a wonderful day of visiting many modernist buildings in the city including the BGK. Thanks also to Maria Piradoff-Link for hosting my visit and showing me the museum collection.

Useful links
Gdynia Modernism Facebook Page
Mini Museum Bankowiec (Facebook page of the small museum)
Gdynia Modernism Route 

Look out for another, more general post on Gdynia's modernism coming soon! 

Monday, 11 June 2018

Peru - Trujillo's Marvellous Market, People and Portraits Part Two

Trujillo is Peru's second largest city with just under one million people living in the metropolitan area. It is home to some spectacular pre-Inca archaeological sites, colourful colonial architecture, a couple of excellent museums and an enormous wholesale market. I will write separately and more generally about the city, but in this post I will showcase some of the wonderful people who work in the market and who I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing during my recent visit.

Yolanda, stylish vendor of peppers
I have already written about some of the challenges of photographing people in Peru, but Trujillo was a very different experience to the rest of the country. People were more open to being photographed and not one person required payment. I must note that I had the superb assistance of a wonderful guide, Tali, who helped ease the way with the merchants, chatting with them a little about their stalls, families and experience before checking that they were OK with the camera. Thanks to Tali, the couple of hours I spent at the market were amongst the most enjoyable of my entire trip.

And so to the market. The first thing that struck me was its size. Gigantic. Tali promised me half a kilometre of bananas and another of potatoes and she did not exaggerate. The choice is wide and the competition is fierce as restaurant and shop owners come here to buy. Peruvians are rightly proud of their locally grown fruit and vegetables and like to tell visitors about the 4000 varieties of potato grown in the country. I think most of them were on offer here.

Of course, the colours, smells and scale of the market is impressive but it is the people that make it extra special. Wandering through the alleyways it quickly became obvious that there are many long established stalls here with several generations involved in different tasks from unloading to selling, and from sorting the stock ti looking after children at the back of the stall.

Yolanda was one of the first stall holders I noticed.  Her sense of style stood out. She wore a leopard skin patterned ribbon in her straw hat and a long, buttoned cardigan. Simple garments but there  coupled with her posture and expression the effect was one of supreme elegance. Sitting beside  baskets of bright red, green and yellow peppers, she was serene, almost detached, indicating her agreement to a photograph with an almost imperceptible nod. She must be Trujillo's most stylish 65 year old.

Maritza "I grew this apple just for you"
Many of the vendors here are women, perhaps the majority. I have no doubt this is a tough job and some of the them can seem formidable at the first exchange. At first Gilberta was not keen to be photographed. She made faces and grumbled a little and I was resigned to moving on. But just as I was about turn away her demeanour changed and smoothing her floral blouse, she stood to attention and then to my surprise, began turning her head in different directions, acting the part of the model. What an actress! Perhaps she will like the picture I sent back for her.

I always think that selling must be like being on the stage and if Gilberta was a natural actress so was Maritza. She has an apple stall, was happy to be photographed and began playing up for the camera, taking an apple from her stall and saying "see this one? I grew it just for you".

The male vendors may not be foreword as Gilberta and Maritza but they also provided some interesting subjects. The butcher in the blue sweatshirt was peering between the cuts of meat hanging on his stall and smiling at passers-by. A little further along, another butcher's stall caught my attention, due mainly to the somewhat disturbing display of sheep's heads but also because of the mischievous smile of the stall holder. This part of the market was very noisy and when Tali asked his name, he misheard and assumed she had asked about the items for sale. "Dead sheep's head" came the reply causing the surrounding stallholders to collapse into fits of laughter, unable to explain what they were laughing at for a moment. He eventually told us that he is called Juan, a name he shares with the butcher in blue and much more suited to him than the first response. Juan is a popular name amongst the male traders. The egg man's name is a little less common. He is called Napoleon.

Juan, butcher
Juan of the sheep heads
Napoleon, egg vendor
If the majority of stallholders are women, delivery is a job done only by men. Although most goods arrive in the early morning, deliveries take place throughout the day. At the time of my visit, consignments of bananas were arriving. In some cases the fruit is sorted into containers in the back of a truck and then handed down to porters using trolleys. Others simply load huge piles of bananas on to their backs and take them to the stalls. One young man was carrying a huge pile of bananas and when I began to shoot, he put on a little show, performing a few dance steps before disappearing into the main body of the market. Still on the subject of bananas, in the afternoon things quieten down a little and the woman in the picture below made use of the time to practice knitting with one needle. 

A delivery of bananas
The dancing porter
Keeping busy between customers

Luz and her grand daughter Damaris were playing happily together whilst other members of the family took care of their stall. As with Yolanda, I was much taken by Luz's sense of style. With her poncho of contrasting colours and wide brimmed hat, she was a match for any of those posh ladies out shopping in London's Knightsbridge or South Kensington. But little Damaris, aged just two stole the show with her pink kerchief, showing great curiosity and wanting to handle the camera. She looked most surprised when I showed her a picture of herself on its screen.

A little further on we came across Maria with her grand daughter Beatriz. As we passed, Maria looked up from grinding garlic and waved at us. Beatriz was standing close to her, a very serious little girl, also aged two. It is very easy to see Marie's love for her grand daughter from the scene below.  Such hope, such affection. When I showed her the pictures she became a little emotional to the point of shedding a tear or two. By now she should have a copy of the picture below. I hope she likes it. 

Luz and Damaris
Maria and Beatriz
As well as the established stall holders, the market attracts vendors who walk its alleys, offering sweet and savoury snacks to both stall holders and shoppers. Maria sells bags of popcorn from a tray. She stopped to watch our exchange with Gilberta and seemed very curious about what I was doing. She was less keen to be photographed herself, seeking reassurances that I wouldn't "steal her" with the camera. Before I had a chance to respond she seemed to have a change of heart and presented herself for a picture. When I showed her the result, she looked for a moment, nodded and went on her way.

Maria, popcorn vendor
Markets are generally very open places. Anyone can wander in and as long as they behave can stay as long as they like. You don't even have to buy anything. That must be what attracted the little group in my final people picture from Trujillo's wholesale market. I love this little scene, one fast asleep, the woman with her hat pulled down laughing a little, someone else intent on securing a parcel and the "character" engaging with the camera. I love Trujillo. 

And to finish, a little more spice.

You can see more pictures of Peru here.
You might also like Peru - People and Portraits Part One or Lima Art Deco

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Lima Art Deco

Lima, Peru's capital city underwent significant development during the 1920's and 1930's. The built heritage of that period included many art deco structures, primarily residential, middle-class homes but also public and commercial buildings including department stores and cinemas. Examples of the style can still be seen in several parts of the city. This post concentrates on the Centro Historico, rarely visited by tourists but full of impressive architecture and with a busy street life.

Edificio Santa Rosa
The architects working in the style including both native born Peruvians and European emigres. Augusto Guzman Robles was responsible for several buildings across Lima. Unfortunately, some of these have been demolished but Edificio Aldabas on Azangaro Avenue still survives. During my recent time in Peru, it had been painted white, covering an earlier orange incarnation. Designed as an apartment building arranged over three floors, it was completed in 1931 and was one of the first in the city centre to be constructed in reinforced concrete. The facade features both arched and rectangular windows and simple art deco motifs. The doors are especially attractive with decorative metal elements and cement fans above, but most of them are in need of loving care. The ground floor is now occupied by cafes and retail with what appears to be residential use above.

Edifico Aldabas, Augusto Guzman Robles, 1931
Also on Azangaro Avenue, Edificio Gildermeister stands opposite the Aldabas building. Built in 1930, it was designed by the German architect Lange Benno Werner.  Asymmetrical in design, it is much starker than its neighbour and runs to five floors with an end tower climbing to a sixth level. The lobby had a heavy security presence at the time of my visit but it was still possible to see what looked like a marble staircase, hinting at the original grandeur of the Gildermeister.

Edifico Aldabas
Edificio Aldabas
Edificio Gildermeister, Lange Benno Werner, 1930
Edificio Compania Peruana de Telefonos in Giron Antonio Miroquesada is an interesting example of a building with a facade remodelled into art deco style.  Built in 1929, the modification was the work of architect Ricardo Malachowski. Born in 1887 near Odessa, he completed an architectural degree in Paris before undertaking further studies in the same city at the School of Fine Arts. He arrived in Lima in December 1911 to work on a two-year project but spent the rest of his life in Peru designing several significant buildings including banks, embassies and palaces. His son and grandson, both named for him,  also became architects. 

Edifico Compania Peruana de Telefonos, remodelled by Ricardo Malachowski, 1929
Edificio Jesus Nazareno
Lima even has an art deco McDonalds. Edificio Jesus Nazareno in the same street as the Telefonicos building, is a huge structure, devoted primarily to residential use but with a branch of the burger chain on the ground floor. Unfortunately, as with much of Lima's art deco and modernism, it has proved difficult to find details of the architect or date of construction. There appears to be little information on the internet (at least that I can find). This together with the poor state of much of the Centro Historico's art deco and modernism may reflect a seemingly limited interest in the city's built heritage, albeit with notable exceptions. This is reflected in their physical condition whilst as in many other cities around the world, others have been  lost to demolition in favour of office blocks.

I plan to continue my research of Lima's wonderful art deco and modernist architecture and will update this post as I discover further details. If you know more about these buildings please let me know. My thanks to Juan Carlos Guerrero who identified the yellow building below as the former toy department of the famous Oechsle department store. In the meantime, a few more examples of my favourite style, without least for the moment.

Former toy department of the Oechsle department store.
Modernist building Agenda Nicolas de Pierola
You can see more pictures from Peru here.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Peru - People and Portraits Part One

Peru is home to more than 30 million people, many whom preserve traditional beliefs including religious practices, festivals and clothing. Within these traditions there are many variations according to region. The clothes that people wear give a lot of information about their ethnicity, social and marital status. Hats in particular show whether a person is married or single as well as their ethnic group. All of this together with the magnificent backdrops of cities like Cusco and Lima make for some spectacular photographic opportunities. 

Photographing people here has proved more challenging than in other places I have visited. Some Peruvians have cultural objections to being photographed. Others expect payment and of course, like everywhere else there are people who just don't like to have their picture taken. This isn't to say that it's impossible to photograph people here and at the end of this post I will include some tips on how to make things a little easier.

But first the people! Urubamba is a town of about 18,000 inhabitants. The town itself is not really a tourist destination but its location makes it a good place from which to explore the Sacred Valley and its many archaeological sites. One evening I walked the two kilometres from my hotel to the town alongside a busy and very dusty road. The walk was worth it. On arrival I saw an elderly woman sitting outside her house selling fruit from a cloth spread on the ground. Her white clothing, the blue cloth and the deep red of the wall behind her made for a great backdrop. She saw me looking, smiled and wished me buenas tardes. I hesitated for a moment but decided to risk my few words of Spanish to ask for a photo. To my delight she agreed, straightened her collar and looked directly into the camera with a mischievous half smile. A risk is often worth taking.

Regular readers will know that I think markets are amongst the best places to get good pictures and to soak up the atmosphere of a city or town. I visited two of Cusco's markets. Mercado San Pedro is huge, noisy, pungent and dazzles with colour. Fruit, vegetables,  herbs and spices, bread, meat and  flowers are all sold here You can also find a barber, hat maker, electrical goods and myriad other items and services. In addition to the more formal sections of the market hundreds of vendors line the surrounding streets, their goods spread on the ground. San Pedro and its traders was amongst the highlights of my time in Peru. Some of the people I met are pictured below.

Raoul is a hat maker. His father began teaching him the trade from the age of five. He uses a mould, iron and other traditional tools and offers two kinds of hat made from materials of differing quality. I have never seen hats being made by hand before and assume that  in most parts of the world this industry is now mechanised. The cultural importance of headgear in Peru may well be a reason for the survival of this traditional skill.

Felicita sells woollen garments from a tiny stall in the indoor section of the market. Like the woman in Urubamba, she wished me buenas tardes and invited me to look at the hats, scarves, gloves and  other items in her basket. She was most pleased when I bought a pair of socks and encouraged by her daughter, had no hesitation in agreeing to a picture. I liked her kind face and gentle expression and took several shots of her.  In almost all of them she placed her hand on her throat, perhaps a little shy after all. Both Felicita and her daughter laughed when I showed them the results. This is a common response, usually because people are a little embarrassed and hopefully nothing to do with the quality of the photography.

Out in the streets I noticed a woman selling corn against a wonderful backdrop of faded and peeling green paint. When I spoke to her through a third person, I realised that she is a woman of character, joking a little and saying that she has no name. That smile shows a sense of fun but the placing of her hands in her apron pocket perhaps indicates a degree of shyness and that the bravado may be a public face rather than her real self.

I think I must be developing a fascination for street vendors.  I noticed three herb sellers sitting in front a pair of green doors. I was again struck by the backdrop as well as the woman in the red sweater and checked apron. Immediately I began taking shooting, another woman came up and told her to smile otherwise the camera couldn't work! The other two vendors began to laugh presenting a good opportunity to ask them for a group picture. Meanwhile the woman giving advice on smiling began telling them to say whisky which must be the Peruvian version of cheese. I love this picture, especially for the different expressions and for those red and purple shades against the green door.

There is also a market in Cusco's San Blas neighbourhood. Very different to San Pedro, it is much smaller, more genteel and focuses on the sale of textiles, leather goods and other handicrafts. It is located in the square beside the San Blas church, close to many cafes and restaurants in this gentrifying part of the city. There are sometimes musical performances here in the evening. It was here that I met Juana, a weaver and seller of textiles. Her colourful work was displayed on a small stall and after a little persuasion, she agreed to a photo, looking through a gap in her display but not before removing her hat first and "tidying herself up".  Ramon also has a stall in San Blas, selling woollen items. He is of striking appearance, exceptionally tall, well in excess of six feet and dressed in items made by members of his family. He was happy to chat a little and to pose.

Still in San Blas, I met Fernando whilst climbing a steep set of steps to reach a view over the city. He was coming down and carrying corn to his wife and daughter who I had seen earlier as they went from door to door selling. He carried the corn in a brightly coloured bag, contrasting with the greyness of his sweater and the steps. The woman with the llama gave her name as Maria. The llama is called Pabilito. Maria may or may. not be her real name - she is one of several women in Cusco who hang about offering pictures for a price to visitors. I couldn't resist and gave her a few coins. It is better to agree in advance how much you will pay so as to avoid disagreement later.

Ten million people live in Lima, one third of Peru's population. The streets of the Historico Centro teem with shoppers, vendors and people without work trying to make some kind of living. This includes children. The little boy chalking on the ground is called Darwin. He is about eight years old and together with his older brother he copies Manga images in order to earn a few sols to help supplement a meagre family income. Whilst talking to the two boys a woman came forward to rail against poverty in Peru saying it was a disgrace that in a country rich in resources, families were reduced to this. Not only in Peru of course.

A few streets away from Darwen I came across an elderly woman selling fruit. She lives in Ayacucho, a town about eight hours away from Lima and comes to the capital to earn a living. When asked for a photograph she agreed, but not before picking up her Bible for inclusion in the picture, demonstrating its importance to her.

The Centro Historic is also a good place to capture images of  more social situations. The refreshment stall with the older lady drinking tea, a man buying a snack and a third party deep in thought is just outside the city's Chinatown. They are together yet separate, each one lost in their own thoughts. The team of uniformed men polishing the fabulous doors of a former bank were much less restrained. Polishing with great gusto, they reacted with smiles and waves when they noticed the camera and some even posed for portraits. The door is beautiful and the men seemed happy in their shared labour. Ironically, directly opposite them a long line of some of the city's poorest people were waiting for a free meal given by a charitable organisation at the weekend. Signs of extreme wealth and poverty are never very far from each other.

Still in Lima but a world away from the Centro Historic, Barranco is an arty, gentrifying district. It is home to many artists and boasts several high quality galleries as well as a museum dedicated to the work of photographer Mario Testino. Art adorns the streets as well as the walls of the galleries. The couple pictured above were performing various acrobatic poses for in front of some of that street art. Note their shadows as well as their agility and the colourful backdrop.

Markets and "bohemian" quarters are perhaps obvious places for finding interesting people to photograph. But travel often offers unexpected encounters and opportunities. Many Peruvian women carry their shopping and other items in brightly coloured textiles, hung over their shoulders. In Aguas Calientes, close to Macchu Picchu, I noticed a tiny elderly woman struggling to pull her shopping on to her back. In despair she put her goods on the floor and looked around for assistance. I went to help her and was astonished to feel the weight of her load - at least 10 kilos. How on earth would she manage to get this home? Her name is Propina and you can see her above in blue clothes and a hat. I was to have a similar experience in Cusco where an elderly woman was struggling down some steep steps, saw me coming up them and put out her hands out for help. Once we reached the bottom she thanked me, calling me papa. I am assured this is a term of respect and not an indication that she thought I must be older than her!

My final two pictures in this first of a two-part post are of vendors working in Pisac's market. Aurelio, the baker makes and sells delicious cheese empanadas (as well as various meat varieties). His hat indicates that he is not married. The woman seated was weaving using a traditional method.

A few tips on photographing people in Peru.

It is a good idea to ask permission to take pictures of individuals. Be prepared to be met with a clear, and occasionally curt "no" and if you are, then accept it and move on as gracefully as possible. If you get a positive response, many people will expect a "tip" of about 2 sols (about 50p at time of writing) so click a few times to make sure you have a good result. I must note that in Trujillo (which will feature in my next post), there was no expectation of payment.

It is polite to let them see the picture, to thank them and if you can to use a polite term especially when older people. "Mamita" for older women and "Papa" for older men seems to be appreciated. If I am staying in a town long enough I sometimes develop hard copies to give to people if I think I can find them again.

Taking pictures of crowds or general street scenes is more straightforward but you may find people turning away if they think they are in shot.

It is really helpful to have someone with you who is local, can speak Spanish and abetter still,  one of the other Peruvian languages to help you engage with individuals before requesting a picture. Thanks to Jaime of  Photo Peru in Lima and Julie of Viracocha Travel in Cusco, both of whom who helped me enormously.

You can see more pictures of Peru here.